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The National Gallery of Ireland on Merrion Square Xinhua News Agency/PA Images
National Gallery

Gallery workers express 'deep distress' on awarding of cafe contract to Direct Provision firm

Aramark, a Direct Provision centre operator, was awarded the catering contract for the National Gallery.

NATIONAL GALLERY OF Ireland staff have expressed “deep distress” over management awarding catering services to a company which also manages Direct Provision centres.

Aramark, an American corporation, operates three Direct Provision centres for the State in Cork, Clare and Westmeath and has commercial interests in the US prison system.

It has been the subject of controversy due to its operation of asylum centres, and has been boycotted by students at campuses in Trinity College, University College Dublin and the University of Limerick.

The company took over running the gallery’s cafe on 14 February, in addition to a seasonal outdoor unit and services for externally catered events, following a tender process.

According to tender documents, the contract agreed by Aramark is worth up to €7,500,000 (excluding VAT) over its lifetime and any extensions.

The contract is for a three-year term, subject to an annual review and with an option to extend for between two and five years.

On 2 February 2022, staff asked the gallery’s board members to reconsider Aramark’s suitability for the catering contract via a letter.  

According to the letter, seen by The Journal, gallery staff sought to express their “deep distress and strong opposition” to the contracting of Aramark for catering services.

“Their presence here will cause will cause irreparable reputational damage,” the letter said. 

The letter, signed by 34 of the gallery’s more than 170 staff members, said that Aramark’s values were “at odds” with those of the gallery and its staff.

The letter claimed that awarding the contract to the company “not only flies in the face of the gallery’s ethos, but also discredits the work that the gallery has carried out with people living in the Direct Provision system”.

It also argued that contracting the services of Aramark was a “direct conflict” with years of work that the gallery had “invested in fostering relationships with this community and gaining their trust”.

In 2019, the NGI hosted exhibits created by people who had lived or were living in Direct Provision. The exhibition, titled ‘Something From There’, featured the first-hand experiences of people seeking asylum in Ireland.

The same year the gallery hosted Sanctuary Runners – an athletics group with members living in Direct Provision – during the Dublin’s Women’s Mini Marathon, providing the group with changing areas and refreshments.

A National Gallery of Ireland spokesperson told The Journal it was bound by Irish and EU procurement law during the tender process.

It said Aramark was chosen because the company “scored highest on the prescribed assessment criteria”. 

The tender invitation for the gallery’s catering contract states the provider “must undertake to ensure that neither it, nor its personnel…do anything which would or may damage the reputation of the NGI”.

The gallery added that the caterers’ involvement in Direct Provision would not conflict with their work with people living in the system.

‘The broad range of our activities and initiatives across the entire Gallery positively reinforces the Gallery’s inclusive approach,” a statement read. 

The gallery declined to say how many other parties were considered in the tender process. It added that its Executive Leadership Team also responded to the staff letter the week after it was sent.

A spokesperson for Aramark was contacted by The Journal.

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